Dear Reader: Arms and serious unanswered questions

In August the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the arms deal refused Terry Crawford-Browne permission to make public the submissions he had made in June. The Commission went so far as to counter his request with a facetious question: “What is the point of disseminating what is already in the public domain? What purpose will be served thereby?”

Simple: Crawford-Browne wants the world to be able to hold the Commission to account – when it gets to writing its report – for what, thanks to him, we now know for certain the Commission knows.

For the record, here' the gist of the evidence Crawford-Browne gave the Commission:

♦ The so-called “offset” investments offered by the arms suppliers to sweeten the deals – already recognised worldwide as a scam – fail the requirements of section 217 (1) of the Constitution, which requires that government procurements must be “fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective.” (Even the Department of Trade and Industry has conceded that the offsets were a fiasco.) This is relevant, since three of the six provisions of the Commission’s terms of reference refer to offsets.

♦ We know the Commission has a legal opinion from Advocate Geoff Budlender SC that the arms deal was unconstitutional and illegal from inception, and is therefore unfixable. Budlender further advises that the international remedy for fraud is to cancel the contracts, return the equipment and recover the monies.

(The financial consequences of cancellation would be borne by British and German taxpayers, not South Africans, in terms of the guarantee arrangements for the loan agreements.)

♦ The Commission also refers to 160 pages of affidavits that detail why and how BAE paid bribes of £115 million (R1.5 billion) to secure its warplane contracts; to whom the bribes were paid; and to which bank accounts they were credited.

The 1996 Defence White Paper and 1998 Defence Review noted that there was no conceivable foreign military threat to South Africa, and that socio-economic upliftment was the national priority.  

All that is now required is urgent remedial action to recover the monies so that they may be allocated to South Africa’s desperately needed social upliftment. That, suggests Crawford-Browne, does not require three years of further investigations, simply political will.

More recently Crawford-Browne has suggested the Commission should interrogate former British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the pressure he applied on our government to buy BAE/Hawk and BAE/Saab Gripen fighter aircraft, despite their having been rejected in 1997 by the SA Air Force, which rated them unsuitable and too expensive.

And what about the Blair government’s complicity in BAE’s payment of bribes of £115m, and Blair’s placement of officials to block investigations by Britain’s Comptroller and Auditor-General and parliamentarians into the fraudulent offset contracts?

Crawford-Browne even reckons Blair will be able to tell the Commission all about the role of the so-called “BAE/Al Yamamah slush fund” (administered by the Bank of England, no less) and its purpose to destabilise resource-rich countries in Asia and Africa. This question, he suggests, is particularly germane given recent events at the British-owned Lonmin mine.

Crawford-Browne has had no luck with the Commission on that lot either. What a pity. Judge Seriti might just have earned his place in history.

As the Cape Times observed in a recent editorial, “Effectively, Crawford-Browne and [military software designer] Richard Young have placed the commission on terms: They have insisted that the commission go about its work in such a way that it answers to the South African public, and is not perverted to merely serve the political interests of the president and president’s men like Mac Maharaj”.

The credibility of the commission is no longer a given, the Cape Times noted.

Here at Noseweek, it never was.

The Editor


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